The first time we spent a summer in Europe, we spent $18,000 all in.
I was ready to slit my wrists when I saw my final credit card bill. “Jesus Christ!” I remember saying out loud. “How can anyone afford to go there?”
Our prayers were answered through apartment sharing through Airbnb. I bring this up, because I’m booking a jag through Eastern Europe and I can’t believe how affordable this has made travel for us in the past few years and I’d have to lean on the website heavily to help us stay within our budget if we’re going to be traveling for a year. Some interesting facts about Airbnb:
They list 4 million properties worldwide (and don’t own a single one)
It’s active in 190 countries
They’re valued at over 30 billion dollars (and may go public next year with a stock offering)
If you own an extra property and want to join the gig economy, they’re awesome. My friend Andy uses ‘hostel world‘ to book hostels, but as we have expensive hardware that I wanted to keep secure, (and we had three people) renting an entire apartment was the same price as three hostel beds. Although many people have heard about Airbnb, I’m surprised how many people have never booked accommodation through them.
The dashboard is pretty straightforward. You can filter for price and number of people, but Airbnb owners usually list properties for guests that want to stay more than one night. You won’t have a change of sheets everyday which hotels usually do, but it will save you money in the long run.
What saves you money with an apartment is the ability to cook meals in. In our expensive trip mentioned before, we’d eat two, sometimes three meals out per day. Having a kitchen would allow us to shop in the local markets and cook meals in, limiting ourselves to only 1 meal out per day. This, with some other travel hacks, brought our summers in Europe down to $10,000 minus flights which made it a bit more affordable.
In schools around the world, teachers are advocating for a ‘growth’ verses ‘fixed’ mindset and they all have their own ideations of the above graphic that’s age and subject specific. As someone who supports teachers from K-12, I’ve seen no other buzz word spread so readily to classrooms in my lifetime. Carol Dweck wrote about this in ‘Mindset’ and dozens of advocates and devotees have sprung up everywhere proposing that if we can only engender and teach perseverance and persistence, students will become more confident and able learners. You know what: they’re right. How to do this is the question.
A few years ago as a math teacher, I performed an experiment which would identify which students had the most grit in my class. Without telling them the objective of the activity, on the first day of class, I would give the students a college level calculus problem. I told them to work on it as long as they wanted, and when they ‘gave up’ they would be given the course syllabus. I would secretly mark the time at which they’d had enough.
The results were shockingly predictive. The students that gave up quickly would be revealed later as the worst students in the class, reflected by subsequent coursework, (or lack there of). The students that kept persisting (sometimes upwards of an hour) would invariably be the best in class by semester’s end. I never told them the real purpose of this experiment. Maybe I should have.
With so much of a child’s personality being made at a young age, professionals wonder how much parents and teachers can ‘reverse’ a defeatist attitude many students have. There are some tactics: set SMART goals, recognize effort and recognize positive self talk.
From Westerner to Tiger Dad
I’ve lived in Asia for 17 years now. As a westerner that has called the far east home for so long, it was inevitable that its culture would wear off on me as a parent. The most notable observation that I’ve made about east Asians in my time here is how driven they are academically. Japan, China, South Korea, and Singapore all lead the world in PISA tests. Western academics dismiss these results and say they’re the result not of the quality of instruction, but additional enrichment programs and parent support, outside the controlled measure for an effective study. All good points. However, these students know that education is the key to upward mobility, a good job and a fruitful career. If you ask the youngest of students at our school what they want to be when they grow up and why, they’ll give you 2-3 career options and the answer above. If you ask an American student the same thing, they simply shrug their shoulders and says “I don’t know” with a touch of annoyance and tad of indifference.
In 2011, Yale professor Amy Chua published a fantastic book called ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother‘ which advocated for eastern approach to parenting over a western one. It touched a nerve with western parents who couldn’t fathom bringing their children up with such a value system. In the end, her children were accepted to the ivy league, vindicating this method.
The climax in the book was when Mrs. Chua’s daughters were practicing an instrument one day and pushed to the point of exasperation. Rather than push harder, the author than ‘gives up’ her tyrannical parenting. The daughters didn’t rejoice. They couldn’t believe that their mother displayed such an about shift after so many years of a hard line stance. By then though, the daughters had been instilled with grit and knew the importance of hard work and not merely ending up as an entitled Trump supporters.
I’m guilty of this too. I pushed Ava to crawl at 6 months. I was starting vocabulary flashcards with her before she was one. Just today, as she was taking her unit test on multiplication and division in ‘Khan Academy’ she had a bit of a meltdown, but kept going with it, earning a perfect score. I see evidence of this hard work everywhere, from her high scores on MAP tests to leadership and conversations with adults. Still, we as parents and teachers need to know where to draw the line, when to take a break, and when to come back to it later.
“Daddy, can we take a break? I’ve done so much math today!” Ava told me this morning.
“But you’re doing so well!” I replied. “Don’t you want to get better?”
“Yes, but I’m tired.”
“Ok, we can take a break. But you know the more you practice, the better you’ll get? Right…..right?”
It’s 8:39 am and Ava just had a friend over for a sleepover the night before. For the first time in the dozen or so sleepovers that we’ve hosted, we didn’t have any flour or milk, so I wasn’t able to make my token pancakes. It didn’t go over well with my daughter.
“Sorry Ava, I don’t have ingredients for pancakes this morning. I can make you both bagels and cream cheese.“
“No pancakes daddy? What kind of sleepover IS this?“
I then thought that Ava might benefit by starting her trip by writing a thousand word essay on the topic of ‘disappointment’ to shake creeping first world privilege. While I was wrestling with whether or not I might be too hard on her, or raising a spoiled child, I had an epiphany- sleepovers would soon dry up.
The Challenge of Making Friends While Traveling
By now, word has spread around our community of our plans. Common responses from our coworkers in passing have been:
“What a great learning experience for your daughter!”
“She’ll have so many good memories to look back on!”
“No doubt, she’ll have a great global perspective!”
True. But, how will she make friends? Say what you want about the 9 to 5 grind, but there are real comforts in daily work-life. Visiting the gym regularly, social get togethers, local hobbies- all of things make a place home, and after weeks on the road, we’re always happy to be homeward bound. With us being gone for a year, how will our daughter make and sustain any long term friendships? How will she learn to resolve conflicts through negotiation and role play? Sure, she’ll meet people here and there, but as people are always coming and going on the road, I know the moments will be fleeting and ephemeral. Here are some strategies that we’ve learned to keep her social:
Skype and Hangouts. Not just for calling your parents (see below). Some of the families that we’ve been following have said that periodic chats with friends around the world via skype or Google hangouts can do wonders for loneliness.
The Local Park. Europe is awesome for community parks and I was surprised at how much I liked down days just hanging out on a blanket in the grass. Some times, we would take a picnic lunch, a book to read, sunscreen and a frisbee and it would turn into one of those ‘magic days’.
The Beach or Swimming Pool. I’m already jonesing for the beaches on the Mediterranean. I think when most people think of those idillic beaches of the world, they think of deserted places. I’m the opposite. The more the merrier, and with people come amenities like cafes, ice cream shops but more importantly, other kids with whom to play.
Resort Owners A few years ago we went on a diving trip in Moalboal (see below) and arranged for childcare ahead of time so Lisa and I could go diving. Upon arrival, we learned the owner had two grandchildren visiting and we asked if Ava could play with them. They hit it off instantly and soon we gained the trust of the family to leave Ava with the other children in the pool for a couple hours when we went diving. Since then, we’ve made an effort to see if any of the owners of the hotel or Air B and B have similarly aged children for a playdate.